Source: U.S. Air Force

Test of U.S. Defense Against North Korea Missiles Set This Month

  • Defense agency says test was long-planned, not a provocation
  • It’s the first since a test that worked in ’14 after failures

The Pentagon will attempt a new test by the end of this month of whether it can intercept an intercontinental ballistic missile like the ones North Korea is seeking to develop, according to the deputy director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

“It’s coming up later this month,” Rear Admiral Jon Hill said in remarks Tuesday at a “Missile Defense Day” gathering on Capitol Hill that had marketing displays by top contractors including Boeing Co., Raytheon Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp.

Hill said the test has “been planned for a while” and wasn’t intended as a provocation to North Korea or any other nation. Asked after his remarks about the timing, Hill described June 1 as an approximate window for the test.

The attempt to intercept a dummy target will take on symbolic importance whether it succeeds or fails, as North Korea ramps up its ballistic missile development and President Donald Trump vows to block Kim Jong Un’s regime from developing a nuclear weapon that could reach the U.S.

The next interception attempt will be the first since a successful test in June 2014. But before that, two tests failed in 2010.

The Missile Defense Agency has said its extensive efforts to fix flaws with the interceptor’s warhead have paid off. But the Pentagon’s weapons testing office has said the $36 billion system of ground-based interceptors can’t yet be counted on to shoot down a nuclear-armed missile aimed at the U.S. West Coast by North Korea or Iran.

The network of radar and communications -- combined with missiles based in California and Alaska -- has demonstrated only a “limited capability to defend the U.S. homeland from small numbers of simple” intercontinental ballistic missiles, the testing office said in its latest annual report.

‘Increased Tensions’

Representative Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said the next test “takes on special significance because of the increased tensions in the world.”

“Rather than being provocative, I see this as a move toward stability,” Franks said in an interview. “If an enemy recognizes we can knock down the first one or the second one or maybe the fourth or fifth one, they know that’s going to give us the time for an offensive response -- and that is a deterrent in itself.”

The U.S. test will attempt to shoot down a target that replicates for the first time the speed, trajectory and closing velocity of an ICBM. The U.S. also will test avionics updates to the booster rocket built by Orbital ATK Inc., which carries an improved version of a hit-to-kill conventional warhead made by Raytheon, Missile Defense Agency officials have said. Boeing manages the missile defense system.

Asked the implication if the test shot fails, Franks, a supporter of the missile defense system, said “it definitely has significance.” But “if you ask Kim Jong Un, you learn more from your failures than you do from your successes.”

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